Death on the Azure Coast

July 20th, 2016

Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal published a picture of employees of the Hotel Le Negresco in Nice, France. They were standing on the Promenade des Anglais, where 84 people died last week, run over by a mad lone terrorist.

Two years ago, my wife and I stayed at the Negresco when we visited Nice; we often walked along the Promenade “of the English,” which is a block from the English church I have assisted various times over the years.

An additional reason to be upset by such suffering is the way such tragedies are mounting up. The official French mourning period of three days was hardly over when three police were assassinated in Baton Rouge, and the media raced off to cover another horrible event. Last week, a network news producer told me how she and a colleague were looking at “raw” news feeds last week and found themselves depressed.

It is with slight but significant relief that we can at least offer prayers for the victims of violence. That’s one thing we can do. God help us. —J. Douglas Ousley


Novel Ideas

July 8th, 2016

I love to read novels–so much that I confine my reading to my Thursday day-off and summer vacations. The rest of the time, professional reading has a priority.

Happily, a recent vacation gave me time to enjoy great fiction, including vintage a Mickey Spillane tough-guy detective story, Dressed to Kill, and a new thriller by Lisa Lutz, The Passenger. I grant that such works are certainly “escapist”–with exciting, impossible coincidences and superhuman talents. But these works do challenge our imaginations. The Passenger, for example raises fascinating questions about guilt and innocence–topics not uninteresting to the Christian.

Like films, novels challenge the imagination, and in so doing, challenge the soul. —J. Douglas Ousley


For Once

June 15th, 2016

For once, the church was on the right side. For once, we Episcopalians were ahead of the times.

We have for decades been taking heat for our support of gay relationships. We have long been in favor of gun control. After the Orlando massacre, we can be glad that none of our social and political positions would have encouraged the shooter.

But, of course, this is very small comfort as we pray for so many victims and their families and friends. And blameless as we may be as a church, this was a dark night for religion. —J. Douglas Ousley


The Dones

June 6th, 2016

A new book by Josh Packard and Ashleigh Hope discusses Church Refugees. It has the intriguing subtitle, Sociologists Reveal Why People Are Done with Church but Not Their Faith.

The authors focus on a subset of the increasing category of persons who respond to opinion polls by saying they have no religious belief–the subset of people who were once extremely active church members and who now no longer attend church. One reason these folks left was that they felt “judged” by fellow parishioners. They also felt weighed down by the endless meetings and other bureaucratic baggage of the modern church.

Whatever their reasons, these Nones are now Done with church. And the church is poorer without their energy and leadership. —J. Douglas Ousley


Church Tourists

May 31st, 2016

Summer brings visitors from all over the world to Incarnation, and it’s interesting to get their impressions of our church. Their first words are almost always: “What a beautiful church you have!” Accustomed ourselves to our church’s appearance, it’s good to be reminded how fortunate we are.

Summer is also a good time for us at Incarnation to take advantage of vacation travel to visit other churches. I often pick up new ideas when I attend other parishes. And I’m reminded of the breadth and extent of the Christian world.

Happily, Christians the world over are laboring in the vineyards of the Lord. —J. Douglas Ousley


Delusion of Grandeur?

May 24th, 2016

The Presiding Bishop has just announced a search for a new staff person to be director of government relations. Based in Washington, one can only imagine the cost to the Episcopal Church of salary, housing, office rental, and support staff.

The price seems hard to justify when one considers that the Episcopal Church represents less than 1% of the U.S. population. And the expense seems even more extravagant when one realizes that the positions our church leaders take on the various political issues are unfailingly predictable.

The six figure sum that underwrites this governmental office could keep half a dozen churches from going under. Maybe that would be a better way to spend the church’s money. —J. Douglas Ousley


Jesus Lives

May 18th, 2016

Last night, an overflow gathering of the Men’s and Women’s Groups at Incarnation discussed the Historical Jesus–that is, what we know of the actual man, Jesus of Nazareth, who lived at the beginning of the first century, A.D.

My associate and I discussed a recent book by Reza Aslan entitled, Zealot. I emphatically do NOT recommend the book, which rehashes old claims that Jesus was a political rebel who never intended to preach a theological message, much less leave behind a church.

For me, the most interesting aspect of the evening was the fact that our parishioners didn’t seem at all disturbed by the skeptical claims of Aslan’s book. It’s clear that in New York City, at least, the faithful aren’t upset by the attempts to undermine their views of Jesus.

Why is this? Perhaps laypeople have been so often disappointed by “experts” that they no longer rely automatically on their opinions. If one expert says Y today, another expert will say Z tomorrow. Laypeople realize that after 200 years of biblical criticism, the number of Christians still grows daily.

Meanwhile, after the meeting, as I walked to a restaurant for dinner, I glimpsed a glorious sunset. For me, this was an adequate rebuke of skepticism–and one that holds, whatever scholars say about the historical Jesus. —J. Douglas Ousley


Not Much Religion Left

May 11th, 2016

With the departure of Ted Cruz from the presidential race, the religious component now seems minimal. Hillary Clinton (Methodist) appears to be the most serious religious person in the contest but speaks little about family values and is resolutely pro-choice. Bernie Sanders (Jewish) seems pretty lukewarm about religion, and Donald Trump’s (Presbyterian) faith–like most aspects of his personality–is a matter of controversy.

If I were a card-carrying Evangelical or pro-life Roman Catholic, I would have no one to support. Some conservative Christians are urging a vote for Trump as “not-Hillary,” but many others find this too contrary to their principles.

Yet one more twist in a mystifying political season. —J. Douglas Ousley


Dark Matter and Dinosaurs

May 2nd, 2016

A new book by Harvard physicist, Lisa Randall, Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs proposes a link between the mysterious “dark matter” near our galaxy and the extinction of the dinosaurs. The argument is complicated but, in essence, Randall argues that the dark matter occasionally (every 30 million years or so!) knocks asteroids orbiting our sun off course. It was one of these asteroids that hit the earth and caused the massive global cooling that killed off the large dinosaurs.

Randall’s book is straight (and very clearly-written) science. But the religious reader can’t help noting that once again, an apparent advance in science has made the universe look even more complicated than we thought. Professor Randall apologizes for the complication–but Christians may suspect that the marvels of creation will lead to wonder at the universe God has made. —J. Douglas Ousley


Ripple Effect

April 25th, 2016

A very active member of our parish, Ann Churchill, died on April 11; her funeral was last Saturday.

I was amazed at the response to her relatively sudden death–all the people Ann helped in one way or another over the years. Not just family and friends, but parishioners and old people and neighbors and community group members. The range of response was extraordinary for a seemingly modest 77-year-old former nurse.

Ann’s example shows among other things the powerful effect of a generous and creative Christian soul. May Ann rest in peace–and may we follow her fine example! —J. Douglas Ousley